Social relationships are the foundation of human adaptation, structuring cooperation, conflict, and critical health outcomes. Densely-networked relationships make possible cumulative human culture, while institutional workarounds of social minds sustain nation states and the global economy. Human uniqueness inheres in human sociality.

My research concerns the origins and empirical dynamics of human social relationships--the social contexts of cooperation and conflict, the forms and functions of social sentiments, and the co-evolution of human interdependence, norms, and brains. Specific questions include: What psychological systems regulate relational behaviors such as sharing, exploitation, tolerance, deference, play, and punishment? What are the phylogenetic and functional origins of moral emotions and social norms? And through what biological and psychological mechanisms do ecological, demographic, and cultural variables influence social-relational strategies?

I study these big questions by focusing on several empirical and theoretical problems at complementary timescales and levels of analysis:

1) The phylogeny, forms, & functions of emotions, attitudes, & affect
  • the evolution & functions of laughter & humor [PDF]
  • phylogenetic adaptationism & the emotions [PDF]
  • form & function in a Yasawan (Fiji) affect lexicon [poster]
  • a theory of sentiments applied to "contempt" [PDF]

2) Individual differences in social strategies
  • conditional defection in subclinical psychopathy [PDF]
  • conversational dominance in subclinical psychopathy [link]
  • the impact of general trust on psychopathy perception [PDF]
  • the influence of men's strength on their person perception [PDF]
  • the signal value of non-violent risk taking [PDF]

3) Social interactions, social relationships, & social norms
  • defector detection during "small talk" [link]
  • conversational coordination & cooperation [PDF]
  • moral parochialism across societies [PDF]
  • community hygiene norm violations and contempt [PDF]
  • RICH economic games in Yasawa, Fiji [PDF & SOM]
  • exchange & risk-pooling networks in Yasawa, Fiji [PDF]
  • "overimitation" motives in different societies [PDF]
  • the social scientific value of modified economic games [PDF]

Methodologically I am a pluralist, drawing on diverse tools and theories as they help me pose and answer novel questions about humanity. At base, I care about the empirical reality of human nature, so I value induction alongside deduction in the scientific method; too often in studies of human behavior the real-world explananda remain under-described. I also see no inherent incompatibility between Universalism and Constructionism, nor between Science and Interpretivism, just methodological synergies and open empirical questions. Currently I focus on basic research, confident that quality data underlay effective intervention and activism. I conceive of psychological anthropology as the hub of a truly consilient science of the human condition.

Cross-cousins joking harshly during the New Year "happy time"

Conversational triad in our lab study of small talk among strangers

The Yasawa Sharks rugby club comes together before a match

Assessing cultural style similarity among interlocutors & PDG players
Matthew Gervais,
Jun 10, 2014, 10:47 AM
Matthew Gervais,
Jul 23, 2019, 2:28 PM
Matthew Gervais,
Nov 19, 2012, 4:45 PM
Matthew Gervais,
Aug 16, 2015, 4:18 PM
Matthew Gervais,
Nov 19, 2012, 4:30 PM
Matthew Gervais,
Aug 31, 2016, 10:46 AM
Matthew Gervais,
Mar 4, 2013, 2:03 PM